Luke 15 - The Prodigal Father

Luke 15 – July 18

Today we are going to look at the most famous parable in the book of Luke. Charles Dickens called it, “The finest short story ever written.” Usually the attention goes to the younger son. On many occasions, preachers will rightfully highlight the second son. But, the person in the story who is most glorified and usually most overlooked is the father.

I want us to recognize the unchanging, unlimited, unfading, love of God that we see in this parable. But in doing so, I want us to be careful not to project ourselves onto the father character in the story. The point of the story is that He is NOT like us. 

Some people view God the Father to be a cranky, grumpy, angry, or vengeful God. And they will view Jesus the Son as joyful, merciful, compassionate, and merciful. Or maybe they will break up their understanding of God chronologically and say that the God of the Old Testament is brutal and judgmental and off-putting, while the God of the New Testament is gentle and understanding and welcoming. But, God the Father, Son, and Spirit are unified in their unchanging attributes. Their character traits are not divided between them. The Father does not excel in ways that the Son does not, for example. 

So how should we view the father figure in this passage? The Father represents the whole of the Trinity. It is the heart of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He displays in this parable the unchanging, unlimited, and unfading love of our undivided Godhead.

The point Jesus is making here is very simple. God loves sinners. He does not merely tolerate us. He delights in us. And the way we are going to get a better view of this love is by breaking down three actions of the Father that we see in this parable. 

  1. He watched for His son.

The Father’s love for the prodigal son never diminished. He loved the wandering son the entire time he was lost. His eyes were glued to that horizon, waiting for the day that he would see him there once again.

If you are a Christian, this is your story as well. But, just how far off were you when God saw you? Let’s briefly examine this using the most common biblical metaphor for our lostness. The Bible says that we were DEAD. 

Ephesians 2:1-5 – “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

His eye was set on us. His affection was given to us when we were still far away. 

Romans 5:8. “But God shows His love for us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

You were not just cresting a hill when God saw you and had compassion on you. You were spiritually dead. But that imagery can make it seem like we were morally neutral. Being dead speaks to our inability. But the Scripture in James 4 also refers to us as enemies of God. Romans 5:6 tells us that Christ died for the ungodly. 

We were dead in our sins, enemies of God, and could only be described by a word that literally means we display ourselves to be opposite of God – ungodly. That is how far away we were when God saw us and had compassion on us.

  1. He ran to His son and embraced him.

If the prodigal son were to have walked into the village, everyone that saw him would have scoffed at him. They would have thought, “Look who’s back. This skinny, starving, ungrateful fool is getting exactly what he deserves.” In fact, according to the customs of that day, one scholar that I read said that it would be normal for the father to have made the son wait outside the gate of his house for several days before being permitted inside. It would be a way to publicly shame the son and let the world know that the father is displeased with him.  

But not only does the son not have to sit in sackcloth and ashes outside the house like a homeless beggar, he never had the chance to get near the gate. The father ran to him. The father shamed himself by showing his legs and running to greet him. The father took all the shame upon himself so that the son didn’t know or experience any of it. 

Here is where we see the cross of Jesus Christ in this parable. Consider Jesus. The God of heaven, seated in glory. Being worshiped by angels one moment, and then a zygote clinging to the uterine wall of a teenage girl the next. He went from being surrounded by wealth unimaginable, to poverty unenviable. He went from being sought out to be worshiped by angels, to being sought out to be killed by Herod. He went from a place of absolute purity and righteousness to being surrounded by the slime and filth of sin that permeates our world. 

And you would expect a person like that to stand out like a precious diamond in a pit of mud. But instead of being prized as the treasure that He is, Jesus was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief. 

His disciples who did realize at least a portion of His glory thought that He was going to go into Jerusalem and be elevated to the throne. But instead, He was taken outside the walls and lifted onto a cross. There He hung in agony. His clothes were stripped away. Where Adam and Eve had been covered by God, God was uncovered by man. And they gambled for his clothes at the foot of the cross. And The publicly scorned him and made jokes at His expense. When Jesus said, “I thirst.” They gave him a sponge filled with vinegar. 

Jesus gave no thought to His reputation. He hung there humiliated for the world to see. Why? Hebrews 12 tells us that for the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame. He clothed Himself in our shame so that He might clothe us in glory.  

  1. The Father Clothed Him

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly.” Two words, “Bring quickly.” 

The father does not hire the son as a servant. He brings him back to his full standing as a son. And he signifies his acceptance by saying, “Bring quickly,” these items that bring him honor. Give him the best robe. 

You and I have access to clothes that are incredibly cheap compared to those days. Even wealthy people owned small closets in Jesus’ day. And the best robe was reserved for the master of the house. But the father continues to lavish His love on the son by giving up His own belongings. This is not his inheritance. This is the suit the father would normally be buried in. We see in this display of love that there is immense kindness being shown. 

And we see that his needs are met as the father has sandals brought for his feet. God cares for the needs of his people. 

And we see that he is given a ring to wear on his finger. So, the father is not just meeting his needs, he is going beyond. Nobody really needs jewelry. They didn’t have wedding rings in those days. Rings were a way to display wealth and status. And the father demands that his son be arrayed royally. God blesses us in ways far more abundant than we ask or think. Not always in the ways we expect. But always in the way that is best for us. 

And they bring out the fattened calf and prepare it for a feast. This was a big deal. This was the animal that was set aside and preserved for the biggest meal of the year. Think Thanksgiving or maybe your Christmas dinner. And the father calls an audible and says, “We eat it now.”

The word prodigal means “to spend lavishly, freely, or extravagantly without thought or care of the cost.” So, we see that there are actually two prodigals in this story. The prodigal son who squandered his wealth with reckless living. And the prodigal father who poured out undeserved blessings on His son.